Coronavirus: The increasing number of mutations carries great risks
In the context of the coronavirus pandemic, mutations have contributed to the emergence of many new viral variants and nearly 100 virus mutations are already known. A team led by researchers from the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg University Hospital (FAU) analyzed the occurrence and spread of new virus variants around the world and identified threatening developments.
Erlangen virologists warn that “the more the virus spreads unimpeded, the better it overcomes the human immune system.” During the uncontrolled global spread and rapid reproduction of SARS-CoV-2, many mutations and variants have emerged and the process is ongoing. Despite vaccination, the virus can continue to evolve if it is not able to contain the spread quickly enough, says Professor Walter Dorfler of the University Hospital Erlangen.
Rapid increase until spring 2021
While there were only about ten prevalent SARS-CoV-2 mutations worldwide in April 2020, their number increased rapidly by the spring of 2021 and about 100 are known today, according to the research team’s reports. In collaboration with researchers from the University of California at Davis / Sacramento and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health in Los Angeles, scientists at University Hospital Erlangen have investigated the occurrence of virus mutations and variants since the start of the epidemic.
Investigate ten countries
In specific time periods (January 2020 to April / May 2020, April / May 2020 to July / August 2020, July / August 2020 to December 2020, December 2020 to March / April 2021) in ten countries, Great Britain, South Africa, India In the United States, Brazil, Russia, France, Spain, Germany and China all have identified new viral variants.
The basis was more than 380,500 SARS-CoV-2 RNA sequences from the GISAID science platform, which provides free access to the genome, and more than 1,750 RNA sequences were examined in detail for changes in the virus proteins.
Disturbing new variants emerge
At the end of January 2021, in addition to previously known virus variants (anxiety variants) from Great Britain, South Africa, Brazil and California / USA, between 70 and 100 new mutations were detected in the SARS-CoV-2 genome worldwide. In addition, a new variable of concern was added at the end of April 2021, which is expanding rapidly in India.
“At the end of April 2021, we followed with horror the explosion of SARS-CoV-2 infection in India with more than 353,000 cases and 2,812 deaths per day – the highest number of cases ever recorded worldwide,” explains Dr. Stephanie Weber from University Hospital Erlangen. Newly created virus variants could be more contagious and possibly cause more diseases than the original virus from Wuhan.
Impending problems with vaccinations and treatment
The fact that the mutations spread so quickly supports the proliferation of SARS-CoV-2. Professor Dorfler warns that “the high efficiency of the mutations can pose major problems for treatment and vaccination programs against the virus in the long term.” Perhaps “SARS-CoV-2 will be a dangerous companion for us for a long time.”
Genome sequencing is required
The researchers also indicate that SARS-CoV-2 RNA samples are only systematically sequenced in a few countries except for the United Kingdom. The role of many of the already identified mutations in the infection process cannot be adequately assessed.
Professor Dorfler says: “Sequencing techniques and rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests should prove their presence in Germany as quickly as possible, because understanding virus mutations and variants is essential for diagnosing and treating COVID-19 and for developing (additional) vaccine.” In addition, the following applies: “The longer the delay in vaccination, the new mutations can prove themselves faster and call into question the long-term success of vaccination.”
Lots of open questions
According to the researchers, many questions remain unanswered about the SARS-CoV-2 mutations, for example how infection with a new mutation affects the course of the disease, which mutations and variants actually predominate and why or how successful vaccination strategies are. “We don’t want to panic, but we want to clearly define the problem and show what is happening,” says Professor Dorfeler. (fp)
Author and source information
This text complies with the requirements of the specialized medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been examined by medical professionals.
- Stephanie Weber, Christina M Ramirez, Barbara Weiser, Harold Berger, Walter Duerfeller: SARS-CoV-2 Replication worldwide leads to rapid rise and selection of mutations across the viral genome: a temporal study – of course – the potential challenge of vaccines and treatments; In: EMBO Molecular Medicine (veröffentlicht 01.05.2021), embopress.org
- University Hospital Erlangen: Mutants Help Virus Victory (Posted May 14, 2021), uk-erlangen.de
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-medication. He cannot replace a visit to the doctor.